Investing Made Easy

Dear Liz: This is going to sound like a stupid question but here goes: I keep hearing different percentages for amounts I should invest for retirement and other goals, such as “put X% in stocks and Y% in bonds.” But which stocks and which bonds? Is it as simple as a purchasing a broad market stock index fund and a broad market bond index fund? There are so many choices for funds, stocks and bonds that I can’t get my head around it all. Also, what should you do with money needed in the near-ish term, say, less than five years?

Answer: Your questions aren’t stupid, and the answers are simple: “Yes,” and “keep it in cash.”

You can make investing complicated if that’s what you want, but a simple, effective solution for most investors is to simply buy inexpensive mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) that mimic a market index, such as the Wilshire 5000. The investments provide great diversification at low cost, and keeping fees down is essential to getting good long-term returns from your money.

Index funds attempt to match the market’s returns, rather than trying to beat the market with a lot of costly buying and selling. The annual expenses on index funds tend to be a fraction of what you’d pay for an actively managed fund.

Any investment in stocks or bonds requires some patience, however, since short-term fluctuations can cause you to lose money. If you’ll need that money in a few years, you shouldn’t take the risk of losing your principle. An FDIC-insured savings account will keep it safe. Online banks typically offer better yields than their bricks-and-mortar versions.

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  1. Hi,

    I am the poster of this question. Thanks for answering. My follow on question is two fold: How do you know what percentage of each x and y, and what is the rule of thumb for these percentages if investing more than five years, ten years, 15, 20, etc. We have several different timelines we are looking at here.

    Thank you.

    • Liz Weston says:

      I don’t find rules of thumb all that helpful with asset allocation. You can search for “asset allocation calculators” for some DIY options or hire a fee-only, by-the-hour planner to help.